Virtua Tennis 4 Review
Written : Saturday, May 14, 2011
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
Whatever happened to releasing tennis games when Wimbledon came rolling around? Huh? It’s only the blinking biggest tennis event of the year and not to take advantage of all that noise seems a little pointless. Still, with Virtua Tennis 4 here and Top Spin 4 in close competition we finally get to see whether one of these juggernauts can land a match point. Reference to Wimbledon: check. Below par tennis pun: check. Now on with the show.
"Face. In. Your."
Normally the standard reviewer template dictates there there’d be some kind of preamble – a set pattern if you will – with a journey through the delightful worlds of graphics, gameplay and so on. This time around though we’re going to break with such tradition and leap straight into the Kinect section or, to be more exact, why you should ignore that giant Kinect emblem slapped across the front of the box. Suffice it to say that, as with most recent attempts, the whole thing feels cheaply tacked on and lacking in any real sense of enjoyment. Due to the fact you apparently can’t move, or more likely have Kinect set up in a postage stamp sized room, the game does most of the work for you. All you have to do is flick your arm and wrist in the right manner to utilise the correct shot. “Time for a shot down the line... Wait! Why did I do a lob? Damn.” Try again - another lob. “Hmm. Time for something else.” Thankfully the Kinect sections are fairly limited and you can enjoy the main game without having to suffer through them.
So with a poorly judged Kinect offering safely shuffled out of the way, we can but hope that the meat and drink of the game is worth so much more. Luckily Virtua Tennis is that rare breed of game that has always had a supremely solid foundation to work with, as even the first title in the series was lauded for its blend of realism and impressive gameplay. So for any fans of the series this is a welcome return to form, though one that takes remarkably few deviations from the tried and trusted formula of the past. While the whole thing has been given a fresh coat of paint in the looks department, everything else feels overly familiar.
"Winding up for epicness."
In fact, Virtua Tennis may be slipping into the same state of overconfidence that led to the downfall of Pro Evolution Soccer, as the game still has the same solid foundations, but SEGA-AM3 seem to have relied on that to carry the game rather than trying anything new. That’s not to say that this is a bad game in any way, but if you’ve played any of the previous titles then this is just more of the same. In fact, the only gameplay difference of note is a new super shot that you can unleash when your on-screen momentum meter fills up enough, resulting in a slow motion barrage that is practically a guaranteed point. However, when you consider the improvements made in the latest version of Top Spin, then more of the same really doesn’t cut it anymore.
The biggest overhaul in Virtua Tennis 4 comes in the World Tour, as you no longer get to choose your next destination outright. Instead you have to spend tokens to move to certain locations in a semi random manner. It’s a quirky mechanic, but it all seems a bit much when you’d much rather plot your own course through the mix of tournaments, mini-games and events. You can also spend points to improve your player, but once again you feel pretty much superb from the get-go and almost all of the players seem to play in the exact same manner with very minor differences. It means that you seem to be able to play the same way all of the time, and once you figure out how to beat the A.I, then the same strategies will work time and time again. The new set up is a fresh twist in a stale genre but the bizarre board game style just never seems to gel as cleverly as it should.
"When the ball starts dodging your racket, it means trouble."
Outside of the tour you can take part in arcade match-ups against all of the top players or any of the mini-games on offer, which are as zany and amusing as you would expect. Whether you are steering chicks back to their mother, battling against overpowered wind or bouncing balls off of walls it’s all in good fun. Online is once again a hit and miss affair, mainly due to the fact that series regulars will pretty much destroy newcomers in short order. Still, at least there is a level playing field and matches are pretty much lag free, though you can expect the odd rage quit if you start to dominate.
The achievements are indicative of the issues with the game itself, as there is a distinct lack of originality. Most of them seem to be lifted directly from the previous games, and the rest are just variations on the same theme with career and online progression thrown into the mix, as well as success in the various mini games. Thankfully there is no overriding ball breaker of a task like the Gold Medallist task for VT09 (and trust me, I did that one, so share your pain) so the full 1,000G is there for the taking, assuming you have the time and patience to battle through the World Tour...
Virtua Tennis 4 though feels like it was a little too safe after the backlash fans had towards VT09, and as such has not really taken the series forward in any way. Sure, it’s still a more than enjoyable tennis game, but you could play any title in the series and get pretty much the same impression. Things are at risk of becoming a little too stale if truth be told. In comparison to Top Spin 4 this game is struggling to compete and will probably only really appeal to series regulars. For a game that is built on simplicity and accessibility, it may well be time to try and push the envelope a bit more.
Bland but inoffensive I suppose. Although if I hear the words ‘Forty – Love’ one more time, I think I might snap.
A vast improvement on the last offering, but short of perfection and the Kinect interface makes the whole thing an imprecise mess.
As playable as ever and perfect for newcomers, but the formula is starting to become a bit stale now and the series needs a fresh injection of ideas to really move forward.
A misjudged and bizarre career mode aside, the game has the usual array of options, but most of the mini games are only short lived fun and online the regulars make short work of newcomers.
A list that encourages you to sample every aspect of the game, and master most of them too, but it all feels heavily uninspired.
As someone that has played pretty much every tennis game on the Xbox 360, I was really looking forward to this latest version of one of SEGA’s classic series. Unfortunately the end result feels much like every previous version, and the Kinect support is woeful at best. Virtua Tennis 4 is still fun in parts, but it soon outstays its welcome. Advantage Top Spin.